How the Story of a Real-Life 13-Year-Old Investigative Reporter Became an Apple TV+ Series

TCA 2020: Young journalist Hilde Lysiak serves as the inspiration for Apple’s upcoming “Home Before Dark” series

Home Before Dark
Apple TV+

Apple TV+ blends fiction with truth in its upcoming Jon M. Chu-produced drama series “Home Before Dark,” based on the true story of young investigative journalist Hilde Lysiak.

Her story is known — the now 13-year-old started a local paper called the Orange Street News in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania when she was just nine years old. She found viral fame when she broke an exclusive report on a murder that happened down the street from her home and scooped the other local paper by several hours, going onto becoming the youngest member of the Society for Professional Journalists and win Junior Zenger Award for Press Freedom in 2019.

But Apple TV+, which made its first appearance at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour on Sunday, found a fresh angle to tell Lysiak’s story in a few key ways — by mining the emotional details of her relationship with her father, weaving in some strategic fictional elements, and most importantly, taking a young girl’s story seriously, regardless of her age.

“I after I reported on the story of the murder, everyone in my town didn’t think I should be doing it,” ” Lysiak told reporters.  “Well, not everybody, but there were a lot of people commenting that I should be playing with dolls, not reporting the news.”

The series, which has already been renewed for a second season ahead of its premiere, stars Brooklynn Prince as Hilde, whose last name has been changed to Lisko for the series, with “Across the Universe” actor Jim Sturgess playing her father.  Adrian Hough, Jibrail Nantambu, Deric McCabe and Joelle Carter also star.

“I wanted to treat Hilde and Brooklynn as seriously a Benedict Cumberbatch gets treated on ‘Sherlock’ or any of these guys get to do on their shows,” said Dana Fox, co-showrunner and executive producer.

“The true part of the story is that Hilde scooped the local paper on a murder, and she was right, and everybody slagged her off,” Fox continued, “And that [her father] got sad and disappointed with journalism and quit his job and went to his hometown, and basically Hilde said, ‘You may not be a journalist anymore, but I still am.’ And her pure love of journalism is what brought him back to wanting to be a reporter again.”

Fox said the true story gives way to the fictional narrative when it begins to weave in the storyline that Sturgess’ character had been involved in the murder years ago and had potentially helped to cover it up.

“We wanted to find something that we could fictionalize that we could take leeway with so it would be super bingey,” she said. “We wanted Matt and Hilde to have to work together to solve this crime.”

Joy Gorman Wettels, who serves as executive producer on the show, said that Apple TV+ proved that it was a good fit by treating Lysiak as an artistic equal despite her young age.

“Hilde being real and being asked to be taken seriously from the first day that we ever met her, was our north star,” said Gorman Wettels. “Every director we met, every network we went to before we found Apple, who really was our home and was meant to be our home, that was the test: Do you take Hilde seriously?”